In “Entertaining Democracy”Curran addressed several ways entertainment contributes to politics, one of which is that media contributes to “a dialogue about social norms” (2010, p. 47). Over time, media has changed the view of what is ‘acceptable’ in society, and has led to the passage or change of laws, and even media practices. For example, when a 13 year old girl exposed the gender stereotyping that occurs in advertising, Hasbro agreed to feature boys and girls in their Easy Bake Oven commercials.
The Merchants of Cool Frontline Report was a flashback to my own teen experience. (7th Heaven and Dawson’s Creek were staples of my adolescent television viewing!) As the report noted, teens are an influential population with disposable income, and are thus the targets for many companies. I recently completed a course on theories of adolescent development, and I am now surprised we did not cover any related directly to media influence. Social influences are widely discussed in child/adolescent development, but off the top of my head I can’t think of any relating specifically to media, which is surprising considering the large number of media messages teens are exposed to (Merchants of Cool stated 10 million by age 18 – I would guess this number could be larger now).
I have always accepted the idea that teen behavior is heavily influenced by media (commonsense maybe??), but to what extent is debatable. In a New York Times critique of violence on screen, A. O. Scott wrote that we “project what we see in movies onto more mundane situations”. In consuming these dramatic sources of media that are made to appear as reality, we distort our own perceptions of actual occurrences. The Merchants of Cool report asks “media is just a mirror, or is it?” The reporters then suggest that what occurs is actually a feedback loop: teens influence media that then influences teens. However, in the same New York Times piece, Chris Suellentrop notes that while sales of video games have increased, the number of violent youth offenders has decreased. Along those lines, Dargis mentioned in her critique that violence in entertainment is not new, it has been around since 1895. While we may be exposed to violence through television, movies and video games, it may not actually be influencing behavior.
While there are certainly widespread negative correlations between entertainment sources and society, there are also positive trends. The Merchants of Cool report mentioned the WB network and its commitment to family values, with the exception coming in with Dawson’s Creek. I believe the report described the show as the story of four sex obsessed teens. As I mentioned earlier, I regularly watched the show, alongside my mother and sister. I come from a conservative background, where topics like sexual health and even healthy relationships were not addressed. A lot of what I learned about these topics was from school programs, peers, and quite possibly, media consumption. I found it particularly interesting that the report featured the writers and showed their discussions about navigating condom use – sexual education through television! Additionally, television shows are increasingly featuring homosexual relationships in a positive light. The show Glee has several great episodes that show the process of coming out to a parent. Including topics like this that may not be addressed within the home or school, is certainly a positive feature of entertainment. While entertainment has its limitations and may lead to distorted perceptions, thankfully, it also can provide positive behavioral role models.
DQ: How would Merchant of Cool be different if it were redone today?